Research Note

December 2021 Stéphane Richard: the inordinate loss of greatness in telecoms on the world stage

December 2021

Abstract

What happened is a very bad call for telecoms in Europe and the world, and I thought someone in the French government had looked twice at the ramifications of the court decision about this distracting and yet entertaining Affaire Tapie. But I’m not writing this piece about this affaire and its outcome; rather, it’s about the government appointed civil servant in 2009 who turned out to be a great all-time leader and made Orange one of the top 10 most admired companies in France, and one of the world’s most innovative telecoms and a thought leading telecom company. Case in point: the O-RAN ALLIANCE, founded in February 2018 by AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO and Orange, and established as a German entity in August 2018, is one of the most compelling examples.

Who would have predicted that an énarque (e.g., highly ranked French civil servant graduate from top elite school École Nationale d’Administration “E.N.A.” created in 1945 by French President Charles de Gaulle), who knew nothing about telecoms would actually bring France Télécom—renamed Orange in 2013—to the world stage, and become so passionate about the industry that he would eventually become one of the world’s most influential telecom thought leaders?

When the news about his conviction in the Affaire Tapie broke, rather than highlighting his key accomplishments in telecoms and why it matters for the future of Orange, France and Europe as a whole, most of the media focused on the verdict of this complicated Affaire Tapie, in which he ended up being a fuse. They totally missed his unexpected greatness in telecoms, as well as what he could not accomplish because of the government’s 20% stake in Orange: creating a European heavyweight by merging with Deutsche Telekom for example, which today would be impossible because T-Mobile US accounts for 2/3 of Deutsche Telekom’s group revenue. Let’s look at the biggest bet Stéphane made 10 years ago, which required heavy investments while keeping a strong balance sheet: fiber.

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